The stalk came around quite unusually as I was holidaying in Cumbria for a week with my wife and had sneaked in an outing already on Monday so had my rifle and ammunition with me. I have stalked twice previously, once in high seats and once walked, but I have only seen does so had yet to take my first ever deer. I was quite surprised when I got a message offering me some roe stalking in the Borders. Everything seemed to click as I was already almost half way there and we had virtually done all the things we wanted to do in the week. A quick phone call confirmed the stalking was with Marc at Harwood Estate. This was how I found myself in the company of Marc and his son Jack last evening.
After the initial introductions were over, Marc and I chatted for half an hour or so about my (very limited) stalking experience, my expectations, my experience with firearms and general safety issues. Marc left me chatting with Jack for a couple of minutes while he collected his ATV.
First off we went to check zero of my rifle. A very useful exercise as the zero had moved. A few clicks of the scope and Marc deemed me to be an acceptable shot. A quick detour to the house to drop off Jack and pick up a flask and we were off.
We went to two or three places around the estate and glassed for deer. The main thing that struck me was Marc's laid back nature and the laughs we were having. Marc was very forthcoming with his experience and advice. I learned more sat in that ATV for a couple of hours than in a shelf full of books.
At around 1900 Marc suggested we try a site where he had seen a buck and a doe a few times over the last few day.
The site was everything I have read a suitable site should be. We were on a ride full of lush grass and had a fairly young plantation to our left, with heavy cover to our right. Marc suggested the deer would come across from the plantation, cross the ride and go into the cover for the night.
About 1945 I spotted movement to our left, 10 o'clock at about 130 yards. Marc glassed the area and confirmed it was a doe and it was being followed by a yearling buck, a good cull beast. We waited and spoke in hushed voices. At around 2015 the doe appeared to the left of the ride at about 130 yards. She slowly, and I do mean slowly! moved across the ride from left to right, eating all the while, and disappeared into the heavy cover. I chambered a 243wssm in my Winchester and waited for the buck. He appeared at the same spot as the doe, looked left and right, and walked at a brisk pace across the ride and into cover. I only just managed to get him in the cross hairs but he was too quick for me to take a shot at. Believing my chance had gone, I was a little disappointed. Marc assured me it was way too early for them to couch up in the cover and insisted they would come back again. I applied the safety catch and made myself comfortable in case I got another chance.
Fifteen minutes later and Marc nudged me. The buck was coming back onto the ride at about 90 yards and I had to be ready.
I brought the rifle up and found the head of the buck just coming out of the cover. He was at an angle of about 30 degrees to me, slightly facing away, so I knew to aim a little further back than normal. I clicked off the safety and waited. Marc whispered for me to take the shot when ever I felt comfortable, but it was OK if I was not happy to take it. As the buck came half way out of the cover I put the cross hairs about 4” to the rear of his shoulder and took up first pressure on the trigger. As the his full body cleared the cover, he put his head down to feed. The cross hairs were still on him, so I squeezed off a 100gn Speer SP pushed by 39.5gn of H380. Even though I was using a T8 moderator, I was still surprised to hear the thud of the impact. I saw him go down, but then lost my sight picture as Marc reminded me to reload straight away. To my horror, I saw a deer bounding around in the immediate area of the shot and feared the worst. Marc said there was no need for a follow up shot, so I made the rifle safe. I told Marc where I had marked the strike zone, and he explained that the deer bounding about was the doe, not the buck. He confirmed the shot was well placed and the buck was down.
We waited what seemed like an age before Marc said we would be clear to go forward and we drove the 90 yards to the strike area. There was lots of frothy blood in an area around a square foot, plus lots of blood heading into the cover. Marc again assured me the beast was dead and, as if to confirm it, he spotted the buck about 15ft from the strike area. We made our way in to the cover and found the buck dead with an entry wound about 4” behind his left shoulder. The exit wound was about an inch in front of his right shoulder.
Marc then allowed me to do the majority of the gralloch while instructing me each step of the way and explaining why each part was done. During the gralloch and inspection of the beast we saw that the bullet had taken the lungs and the heart. There was very little left of the heart and there was a broken rib on each side of the beast where the entry/exit wounds were. I was then shown how to fully prepare the beast and busied myself removing the head and feet.
Once the beast was fully prepared and loaded into the ATV we shared a cup of coffee while I came back down to earth a little and then came a statement which really took me back. “right, lets see if we can get you another one”. This, I have now found, is typical of Marc. He enjoys putting you on a deer as much (if not more than!) the stalker enjoys seeing one.
We spent the final hour or so in a couple more places that were known to hold deer, following the barking of one particular deer, and generally chatting about my earlier experience. To be totally honest, I would have been happy to go home straight after loading the buck in the ATV as I had completed my dream of taking my first deer but Marc, ever eager to please, wanted to offer more.
As dark fell, we made our way back to my car. I was given, and took, the chance to keep the beast and paid up what I owed Marc financially. I wont say how much the stalk was or how much the beast was as I have not written this as an advertisement for Marc's services but as a record of my first ever deer, and my first ever roe buck.
The two and a half hour drive back to Cumbria last night passed in no time, and the journey back from Cumbria to Manchester today passed in a similar way.
I now have a beast in the chiller and he weighted in at a respectable 15kg/33lb fully dressed. His head is also in the chiller and will be boiled tomorrow and kept as a reminder of my first deer.
I have already booked for a further outing and will be spending the next three weeks or so looking forward to making the trip north again.
As per normal, I had left the camera in the car last night, but I have managed to take some photos today as the beast was going in the chiller. I will attempt to upload them tomorrow. As the driving is now finished, its time to hit the bottle for a celebratory dram (or several!)